Breaking Bread with Fellow Food Rescue Bosses

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By: Steven Williams, Operations Manager

Two-thirds of the Eat Greater Des Moines team just returned from our first in-person learning lab for the ReFED Nonprofit Food Recovery Accelerator. WOW!

After getting acquainted with the beautiful city of San Francisco—thanks to Moovit we commuted like true San Franciscans—we met the rest of the cohort at IDEO’s beautiful San Francisco office. There is a lot to unpack from our first learning lab, but I wanted to start by mentioning IDEO, who graciously hosted us. Before this week, I was not familiar with the incredible work IDEO does, but now that I do, I’m obsessed.

IDEO is a design company that has offices scattered across the globe. San Francisco is where they are headquartered. Nestled on Pier 28 along the bay, from the outside it looks like any other warehouse, but on the inside there is a buzz where people are thinking and creating human-centered solutions to problems ranging from voting accessibility to food design to breast pumps. It was remarkable to learn from their team and it was a privilege to become acquainted with human-centered design.

After hours of deep dialogue and exercises on the topic of food rescue, design thinking, social enterprises, here’s what my takeaways were:

  • 1. Create solutions that are future-thinking and not just solving today’s problems.
    Max Elder, Research Director at Food Future, shared with the cohort how important it is to not just focus on solving the problems of today, but instead be future-thinking. As EGDM moves food recovery efforts forward, we want to commit to not just thinking about the opportunities of today, but of tomorrow too. How we predict where food waste and food rescue will go will help shape our behaviors and focuses today—the future is really about the present. I would also like to just share that the setting of this “ah-ha” was at a private dinner crafted and cooked by Chef Nick Balla. It was an intimate and overwhelming experience; to be surrounded by passionate people in the food recovery/food waste scene from around the country. I will relish in those memories and conversations for the rest of my life.
  • 2. There needs to be more urgency to reduce food waste.
    This should be obvious. The climate crisis our planet is currently facing has left us with a limited window of time to address it. The world’s food system is the largest contributor to carbon emissions, while the world population is growing. The time for discussions has passed. We need to figure out how we stop wasting 40% of the world’s food supply while people go hungry. It’s insane. It’s disturbing. The sense of urgency I have will drive my work at EGDM. The entire EGDM team has and will continue to have a “just do it” mentality as we push this work forward. I think Kehlani says it best in CRZY, “Everything I do, I do it with a passion…”
  • 3. Food waste can be good.
    There will always be some waste. Food waste provides opportunities for innovation. Good Use is a great example. They use produce that would otherwise be tossed to create juices. I had to privilege to suck down several different flavors they had to offer during the learning lab. It’s all about observing our food system and designing solution to move everyone forward.
  • 4. Bio Breaks are necessary.
    Am I the last to hear about “bio breaks?” It was used during our two-day learning lab to describe breaks between workshops. The IDEO team encouraged the cohort to go outside and walk around—enjoy the fresh air and download. I hope to take that practice back with me to foster healthy collaboration between EGDM and our wonderful partners. So, take a moment after you read this and enjoy a bio break! We’re becoming hip.
  • 5. Analogous experiences can drive innovative solutions.
    A powerful tool to innovation is observing other industries that might be working in a similar fashion to yours. For example, one of IDEO’s projects was with an emergency room department and a pit crew. To enhance the efficiency for an emergency room department, they observed and learned from a race car pit crew. This out-of-the-box thinking will become a powerful tool for EGDM and our community!
  • 6. Hunger-relief can be really messed up.
    During my time in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to sit down with San Franciscans to interview them about their experiences at food pantries, meal sites, etc. The goal of this was to better understand the “end users” of hunger-relief food recovery organizations and their perspective receiving products from food recovery. What I learned during our time with several San Franciscans was a sad confirmation of how horrible hunger-relief organizations can be. As someone that worked at a food pantry, not all hunger-relief organizations are bad, but the bad one’s do exist and they need to be replaced. Like I said, I’ve worked at pantry and understand the stress that pantry staff and volunteers can be under. However, it is the scarcity mindset that many pantries have that exacerbate the stress onto consumers. I hope in the coming weeks to really take a deeper dive into hunger-relief operations, because frankly our old models that provide little dignity and respect to consumers needs to go. More on that later. For now, I wanted to just be clear that hunger-relief organizations need to be scrutinized more.
  • 7. When innovating, you need to be flexible and willing to pivot.
    Research → observe → understand → design → test → solution. The process of human-centered design towards innovative solutions can sometimes lead you away from your hypothesis. As EGDM guided our earned-revenue model through the accelerator’s process, we discovered some additional opportunities to focus on when it comes to the value we provide to the community. As we continue to unpack what we’ve learned thus far, I think our team will need to be flexible, so I guess I will have to wear my stretchy pants.

There is much more to download in the coming days and weeks. Keep an eye out for more content and thanks for following us on this exciting journey. Cheers!T